Building on an overview of the existing policy instruments in place at local, national, regional levels to foster sustainable consumption and production and circular economy approaches as well as current practices to design products and services in a sustainable manner, minimizing harmful environmental impacts, the following trends and challenges, at global level, were identified.
More information on the methodological approach is available here.
While there is progress in the development of policies, tangible changes in practices and measurable impacts remain limited. Reporting across the One Planet network on SDG 12 identified evident progress in the development of policies, knowledge resources and technical tools supporting the shift to sustainable consumption and production, although their application to foster tangible changes in practices and measurable impacts remains limited. The majority of the relevant policies were adopted between 2012 and 2019, with 2016 and 2019 being the peak adoption years.
Most policy interventions are either sectoral or stand-alone SCP plans. Overarching policy frameworks, such as national sustainable development strategies, represent only 14 per cent of all policies reported under indicator 12.1.1. Most policy interventions which are either sectoral or stand-alone plans for sustainable consumption and production hinder the potential for overcoming sectoral silos and aligning existing policies and regulations. The development of integrated product policy frameworks using a life-cycle perspective remains rare.
SCP and circular economy strategies offer the right environment for coordinated policy packages. Product policies are often hosted under broader development policy umbrellas such as sustainable development, sustainable consumption and production or circular economy strategies or actions plans, as such umbrellas can offer the right environment for implementing coordinated policy packages and supporting the systemic change needed to transform economies and societies.
Quantifying impact of SCP policies remain a challenge. Monitoring of the implementation of concrete product policy instruments and assessment of their impact remain challenging across regions. Data trends on Sustainable Development Goal indicator 12.1.1 show that countries have difficulty quantifying the impact of their current SCP policies; only 26 % of all reported policies had quantifiable targets or measured impacts.
SCP agenda is mostly driven within environmental portfolios; inter-ministerial cooperation is key to overcome silos. While some 70 % of policies reported under indicator 12.1.1 are considered relevant to other Sustainable Development Goals (such as Goal 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure and Goal 8 on decent work and economic growth), only 10 % are led by a ministry of economic development, finance, planning or trade and industry or by a high-level political body. This signals a siloed approach of an agenda which is mostly driven by national environment authorities.
One factor that characterizes the frontrunners in the adoption of coherent product policy packages is inter-ministerial cooperation. A shift towards sustainable production and consumption patterns requires closer collaboration.
Regulatory mechanisms can both trigger innovation and provide clear orientation across the entire government – such as chemical substance bans required under multilateral environmental agreements.
Very few policies cover upstream solutions such as product design and consumer patterns. At the global level, end-of-life treatment of products, solid waste reduction and recycling are the thematic areas that receive the most policy attention.
In most cases, countries leverage a combination of instruments, including incentives, information tools, voluntary schemes (e.g., voluntary cleaner production policies), standards and legal restrictions (e.g., regulations restricting the use of single-use plastic products).
In countries where policy formulation is decentralized to the subnational level, the uptake of sustainable practices frequently relies on voluntary steps taken outside the legislative framework by industries, mostly large companies, that have enough influence to drive markets and consumer choices. In this context, engaging all relevant stakeholders in a transformation of consumption and production patterns beyond the voluntary commitments of early adopters of sustainable practices remains a challenge.
Innovative design practices by businesses focus predominantly on improving resource efficiency and waste reduction and recovery. In line with current incentives, businesses acknowledge the potential economic savings of resource efficient processes and technologies and prioritize mitigating environmental impacts at the production stage. Systematic uptake of upstream design solutions, such as eco-design or circular sourcing, is far from common practice at the global level.
Only a few initiatives concentrate on designing out harmful substances to facilitate product disassembly for re-use, upgrading, extending product lifetime or recycling. Front runners have also started to reduce the mix of materials (e.g., plastics and fibres) and introduce innovations in materials at the design stage. Designing for modularity in order to facilitate repair, upgrading and disassembly is another emerging trend, particularly in the electronics industry.
A major impediment to the adoption of more sustainable design practices remains the fact that products and services incorporating sustainability concerns into their design are often more expensive. Currently they cannot compete with conventional alternatives, as most consumers continue to prioritize price when making purchase decisions. Businesses offering repaired or refurbished products also struggle to compete with newly manufactured products on price, with labour costs rendering their potential margins too slim.
The lack of transparency in globalized supply chains regarding the origin and content of materials in products is a barrier, not only for informed consumer choice but also for manufacturer sourcing of recyclable components or components containing recycled content. Consumers (governments, industry and individuals) also lack information on and understanding of the environmental footprint of the products and materials available on the market.
Access to capital to implement, replicate and scale up design innovations is a challenge. While some businesses have managed to tap into available funding from sources such as crowdfunding campaigns or innovation programmes sponsored by government entities, most private-sector entities – in particular small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups – lack access to the capital required for the initial investment to implement, replicate and scale-up design innovations.
Lack of technical capacity in eco-design, in SMEs in particular, hinders the adoption of innovative product design. Businesses and supporting networks (including RECPnet) have raised the issue of the lack of technical capacity in eco-design and access to the latest technologies, for SMEs in particular. This knowledge gap contributes to businesses’ limited interest in implementing innovative product design in a proactive and voluntary manner.
Benefits of cooperation among stakeholders (e.g., public sector, enterprises, technical experts, and financial institutions) are often overlooked, there are however examples of ways in which businesses have successfully partnered with governments, academia and international organizations.